In "Three Cups," Mortenson charmed his Taliban kidnappers by asking for a Quran and showing his devotion -- and so they let him go. Which is amazing.
More amazing was the claim that they gave him money, saying, "For your schools. So, Inshallah, you'll build many more." (It helps if you forget how bad the Taliban take on education for girls is.)
There were other signals. Writer Ann Marlowe questioned some of the "anti-military nonsense" in a 2008 Forbes commentary. Mortenson claimed that during his stint as an Army medic in Germany, Vietnam veterans were hooked on heroin and died "in their bunks and we'd have to go and collect their bodies." Marlowe suggested that readers take his tales with "three grains of salt."
Instead, he sold 3 million books. Why? Through the pouring of "Three Cups," Mortenson came to personify every liberal conceit. He pushed books, not bombs. He had a nuanced take on Islamic extremism. He's not afraid of terrorism; for him, "the enemy is ignorance."
Marlowe observed, "The implication is that this solitary do-gooder's work is a better model for helping the rural poor in areas that are a breeding ground for Islamic extremism." While to the contrary, the U.S. Army built more schools in just one Afghan province in 15 months than CAI built in a decade.
Listeners of KQED-FM's "Forum" last week were outraged and perplexed. On the one hand, Mortenson has done a lot of good for a lot of children. On the other hand, the "60 Minutes" story makes his fans look gullible.
A caller asked: How are we supposed to know a book is a phony?
Hmmmm. If the cash-giving girls-school-loving Taliban tale doesn't ring a bell, if the constant reminders of Mortenson's greatness -- and modesty -- don't do the trick, maybe there is another warning sign. Global Fund for Women Vice President Shalini Nataraj warned about any memoir that hails "the white savior who's going to come in and save the local people."